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David Ross has his process for how he makes up his team’s lineup. The Cubs skipper uses the resources at his disposal and tries to put his players in the best positions to succeed.
“I don’t just grab it out of a hat, that’s for sure,” Ross said. “Contrary to what probably fans think and everybody thinks, I try to have a process to think about how to set guys up for success and what pitch mix guys might have that might play into certain at-bats. It’s how I manage. Right or wrong, that’s the way I do it.”
Does it always work out? No. We’ve seen times this season when his decisions — even ones with sound logic behind them — don’t yield positive results.
But when it does work out, is he telling himself, “I’m a genius”?
“I know better,” Ross said with a chuckle when asked that question following the Cubs’ 6-0 win over the Rockies on Friday. “I know better than to say that to myself. I’m a small piece to a big puzzle.”
Prior to the game, Ross penciled Jared Young, recalled on Tuesday from Triple-A Iowa, into the lineup as the designated hitter. In Young’s last big league stint earlier in the year, he hit .171 with a .627 OPS. If you checked the reaction on social media, the move was destined to fail.
Many fans wanted to see either Alexander Canario — who hadn’t had a plate appearance since hitting a grand slam on Tuesday — or top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong get a start. But Young also hit .310 with a .994 OPS in Triple-A this year, and Ross liked the matchup. So, that was the move he made.
If it didn’t work out, Ross would have to wear it. Instead, Young rewarded his manager’s confidence with a two-run homer in the sixth inning, one that boosted the Cubs’ lead to five against a Rockies lineup that had no answers the rest of the way.
“It worked out today. Doesn’t always work out,” Ross said. “JY had a big home run. It was a nice, big swing to stretch that out a little bit.”
The other heroes Friday afternoon came in the form of Seiya Suzuki and Jameson Taillon, two of the Cubs’ biggest free-agent additions from the last two winters.
Suzuki’s first two seasons in Chicago haven’t always looked pretty. He’s had his share of extended struggles, and one such stretch over the summer called for a brief reset in early August. It wasn’t a long-term decision; the Cubs just felt he needed some time to work on things and get himself right mentally.
Since he’s returned to the lineup full time, Suzuki has looked like a completely different hitter. In his previous 39 games (163 plate appearances) heading into Friday, Suzuki slashed .343/.399/.678. And against Colorado, he again came through with a 3-for-4 game, including an RBI single to get the Cubs on the board in the first and a two-run homer in the fourth to give his team some breathing room in the middle innings.
That short break in August wasn’t about drastically changing his mechanics. It was about bettering himself mentally and getting his confidence back at the plate. Considering the run he’s been on, at times carrying the offense as the Cubs battle for a playoff spot, that reset provided a major boost to his confidence at the plate.
“I wasn’t really able to contribute to the team the first half of this season, so I’m doing whatever I can for the team,” Suzuki said through interpreter Toy Matsushita. “We’re kind of going into the end of the season, and we only have so many games left. Obviously, all these games are really meaningful, and I’m really happy that I’m getting my confidence back at the right time.”
As for Taillon, inconsistency has plagued his first season with the Cubs.
He began his year 2-6 with a 6.93 ERA in his first 14 starts (the Cubs went 2-12 in those games). Then, he seemingly turned his season around with a gem versus the Yankees, going 5-0 with a 2.17 ERA from starts 15-20.
But the inconsistency returned following that last one (a strong performance against the Mets), as he’d gone 0-4 with a 5.54 ERA in his last seven outings entering Friday. While he did have three quality starts in that stretch, he gave up 20 earned runs across 19 1/3 innings in the four others.
The Cubs can’t afford inconsistency at this point in the season. However he had to get it done, a good Taillon had to show up against the Rockies. The result was exactly what his team needed.
Taillon escaped a few jams through six innings, striking out seven batters and holding the Rockies scoreless. While the offense worked to build the lead, Taillon kept Colorado at bay. And that was enough to help the Cubs get back in the win column.
“The goal is to always not give up runs, but today especially, I was just in the mindset of, ‘Can’t let these guys score,” Taillon said. “I knew I had some guys in the bullpen that can back me up, so I would’ve rather gone four [innings] with zero [runs] than six with three on a day like today. Got in some traffic early, some walks — which is a little uncharacteristic — but was able to just kind of navigate it and make pitches when I had to. It wasn’t easy, but we found a way.”
Even after bad starts, Taillon is open and honest about his struggles and what he believes he has to do to fix them. That hasn’t always panned out this year, but his confidence has never wavered. That’s the mentality he needs to have at this time of the year, when it feels like every game is a must-win for the Cubs.
“I know I’m at a place where numbers at this point don’t even matter anymore,” Taillon said. “It’s about just helping this team get wins down the stretch. I told myself that coming to the park today. This team went out and got me for a reason. I have an opportunity to go out and prove them right and have a good game on a day like today when we really needed it.”
The Cubs have struggled down the stretch, dropping 10 of their last 13 games before Friday. They went from having a strong hold on a wild card spot to seemingly fighting for their playoff lives every day.
But like Taillon, nobody in the clubhouse is losing confidence. The win — and a Marlins blowout loss to the Brewers — gave the Cubs back sole possession of the last wild card spot.
They’ve talked constantly about having a “one game at a time” mentality. If they can keep that going, they believe a postseason spot is theirs for the taking.
“It hasn’t been really going our way this last stretch,” Suzuki said. “I can see that everyone’s grinding and trying to get the ‘W’, because all these games are really meaningful. But personally, I think if we focus too much on winning or losing, then the results wouldn’t really go our way.
“So, I think it’s just focusing on every game. If it doesn’t go our way, it’s just trying to reset ourselves and focus on the next game. In that sense, I think results will follow.”
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